On September 23, the morning following the New Jersey Devils 5-4 victory over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, Devils forwards Stephen Gionta and Steve Bernier skated on a line with unsigned forward Ryan Carter for the first time this training camp. On the ice during practice, their play looked very much like it usually does since they were united by head coach Pete DeBoer during the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. They fed off of each other, knew where each other was on the ice, and practiced with the same cohesiveness that earned their line the “CBGB” nickname. They practiced together again the next morning. But is this the end of one of New Jersey’s most unsung lines in recent memory?
Two Players Signed, One to Go?
One reason to believe it isn’t the end is because Carter is still attending camp. Devils General Manager Lou Lamoriello would not have invited Carter to camp if he had zero shot of making the Devils Opening Night roster. Also, Carter clearly would have searched for an alternative by now if he believed he wasn’t in New Jersey’s plans. Carter refuses to think that far ahead and is taking it day by day.
The winner of the Players’ Player Award in 2013-14, as voted on by his teammates, Carter buried seven goals with three assists during the season. However, it wasn’t what Carter brought to the score sheet that earned him the award. It was the intangibles such as grit and the sacrifice to his body.
The best example of Carter being a players’ player occurred on November 30 in a battle with the Buffalo Sabres at the Prudential Center. Just over two minutes into the game and a dozen seconds into his opening shift, Carter dropped the mitts with Sabres forward Marcus Foligno, son of Devils assistant coach Mike Foligno. The Sabre knocked Carter to the ice with one punch. Carter missed all of December before returning to the lineup on January 3 but his relentless style of play never wavered. In camp and planning to play in games without a contract in order to earn one, it is apparent that Carter’s determined personality still hasn’t disappeared.
Moving to the other positions, Gionta signed a two-year deal worth $1.7 million shortly after free agency opened and the right-wing on the line, Bernier, signed a one-year contract worth $600,000. After a seven-point performance during the 2012 playoff run that ended in the Stanley Cup Final, Gionta put up 14 points playing in all 48 games during 2012-13. Last season, he notched four goals and seven assists in 66 games. He missed eleven games during the first half of the season with an ankle injury before scoring his first goal of the season, a shorthanded goal no less, on his first shift in his return to the lineup on December 18 against the Ottawa Senators. The goal was arguably the highlight of his campaign.
Like Gionta, Bernier had seven points in the Devils march to the Final. Bernier also had a strong 2012-13 when he finished with eight goals and seven assists, missing just one contest. Then it went downhill last season for the 29-year old Quebec native. He scored on October 17 in a 5-2 defeat to the Senators before a goal scoring drought that lasted 19 games. On November 30, in the same tilt that Carter fought Foligno, Bernier’s marker in overtime was the only goal in the Devils 1-0 victory over Buffalo. In the next game two nights later, he lit the lamp for the third time in 2013-14 but the Devils fell to the Montreal Canadiens north of the border 3-2. Then his stick ran out of goals. He finished the year with those three goals, as well as nine assists, his worst season in the NHL (excluding 2011-12 when he scored six points playing in just 32 games).
Was Practicing with the First Group a Telltale Sign This is the End?
After assuring Gionta stayed in the only NHL organization he has ever known for at least another two years (barring a trade, release, etc), Lamoriello brought Bernier back to “resurrect his career” . While the waiting game between the team and Carter continues, it is also possible to conceive the notion that the CBGB line is history.
On both days, the line practiced with a group that also included Reid Boucher, Stefan Matteau, the tryouts at forward (Scott Gomez, Jordin Tootoo, and Ruslan Fedotenko), and several players destined for Albany that included Mike Sislo, Rod Pelley, Scott Timmins, and Darcy Zajac. The Devils second practice group was made up of NHL players and a fourth line that consisted of Tuomo Ruutu, Jacob Josefson, and Damien Brunner. The groups had nothing to do with the previous night’s game either. Boucher, Matteau, Tootoo, and Fedotenko all played against the Rangers. Likewise, some members of the second group suited up against their rival while the others rested.
It is clear that all three players play their best game when on the same unit and they could have been playing with the first group simply to remain together, but is there room for all three on the active roster? Last season when injuries struck, the remaining players struggled without their sidelined comrade, whoever it was at the time. In order to keep Carter, the Devils have to rid themselves of one player. Problem is, the Devils would still have a pair of extra forwards chomping at the bit to enter the lineup and if the members of the CBGB line perform their best only when they skate together then DeBoer would be forced to scratch a player on their third line or higher.
If This Is the End for the CBGB Line, It Was a Memorable Run
Time will tell if the CBGB line has played their last meaningful game with Jersey’s Team but if they have, it was certainly a memorable run.
From Bernier’s goal in Game 6 of the opening series in 2012 against the Florida Panthers…
To Gionta’s goal in the deciding Game 7…
To Carter’s crucial tallies in the Eastern Conference Final…
…the line will always hold a special place in Devils history even if they were together for only two seasons and one playoff run.
Leo is in his second year with THW. He covers the 3-Time Stanley Cup Champion New Jersey Devils and the Albany Devils of the American Hockey League. You can follow Leo on Twitter, @LeoScaglioneJr.